The Absurd Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism

Modern capitalism has created an influx of purposeless jobs that show us that capitalism is not as smart as it thinks it is.

Anthropologist and activist David Graeber argues in his article ‘On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs’ that contrary to John Maynard Keynes prediction that by the end of the twentieth century we would be working 15 hour weeks, technology has in fact been used to devise ways to make us work even harder –– a phenomenon that illustrates the absurdity of our modern capitalist society that is unable to rethink Max Weber’s outdated narrative of the protestant work ethic [1].

There's every reason to believe Keynes was right [2]. In technological terms we are quite capable of working 15 hour weeks — and yet it never happens, as technology has instead been designed to make us all work more.

Huge swaths of people in Europe and the U.S spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. This is the absurdity of late stage capitalism, both the employer and the employee know that most of the work and meetings that are being conducted are pointless, but nevertheless, they need to be performed anyway to instill the impression of capitalist productivity and protestant work ethic.

An unacceptable and depressing number of contemporary jobs are of the ‘bullshit variety” –– as they contribute nothing of value or substance to our society, making those trapped in these jobs condemned to a life of nothingness. These jobs that contribute virtually nothing to society are direct result of crony neoliberalism.

Austerity and capitalism alike call for a competitive economy –– while economic growth demands the creation of jobs seemingly for their own sakes. This highly incoherent contrast between leanness and expansiveness directly undermine the logic of the neoliberal imposition of work culture. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this phenomenon is profound.

So, how did we get here? Why did Keynes promised utopia vanish into thin air. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we‘ve collectively chosen the latter.

Although we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the twenties, very few have anything to do with IPhones, Sushi or fancy sneakers.

The number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. Simultaneously, professional, managerial, clerical, sales and service workers tripled, growing from one quarter to three quarters of total employment. This illustrates to us that productive jobs, have, just as predicted, been largely automated away.

Unfortunately, the capitalist class never allows for a massive reduction of working hours to free the world's population to pursue their own projects, pleasure, visions, and ideas. It's as if capitalists are out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping everyone working.

Capitalism is supposed to be a productive system that won't allow for useless Human Resource jobs and the like. Capitalism was supposed to be the answer to the old inefficient Socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as it had to.

Isn't capitalism supposed to fix this problem? The reality is, the ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger.

Neither capitalism and communism seem to have an answer for how to best create a happy, productive and care free society. As a society, we should completely redefine work so as to create the happiest and most productive society possible.

The demands of today's workplace –– which include but are not limited to: long hours, constant availability, self sacrificial dedication –– do not match the needs of today's workforce, where workers struggle to reconcile competing caregiving and workplace demands [3].

This mismatch has negative consequences for gender equality and workers' health. As a society, we need to redesign work to better meet the needs of today's workforce and to redefine successful work. Work redefinition should expose the underlying gender and class dynamics of current work arrangements.

Modern economies need to redefine what makes work valuable and fulflling. Technology should do most of the unfulfilling and mundane work. Humans should only do intimate, fulfilling and useful work.
Technology should be used to minimize exploitative work and help workers achieve a healthy work life balance. Mechanisms such as Universal Basic Income should be used to curtail the capitalism phenomenon of bullshit jobs.


[1] Glaser, Eliane. "Beyond bullshit jobs." Soundings 57, no. 57 (2014): 82-94.

[2] Graeber, David, and Albertine Cerutti. Bullshit jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.

[3] Correll, Shelley J., Erin L. Kelly, Lindsey Trimble-O’Connor, Joan C. Williams. 2014. “Redesigning/redefining work.”Work and Occupations41(1): 5-19.